For Granger Smith and his wife Amber, a new baby on the way signals a new beginning — but their late son River is never far from their minds.
The couple is expecting a son in August, and Smith tells PEOPLE that River, who died due to a tragic drowning accident at home in June 2019, "is very alive in our everyday life," in discussions among them and their children (son Lincoln, 7, and daughter London, 9) and even with friends and neighbors who didn't get the chance to know the little boy that lit up his parents' and siblings lives on a regular basis.
Smith, 41, and Amber are still grieving — a process that will always be present in their lives, in some way — but they're also celebrating this new miracle on the way who is about to join their family this summer, as well as opening up about how the pregnancy came to be.
Granger Smith and Wife Amber Expecting Baby Boy 21 Months After the Death of Son River
The couple recall undergoing in vitro fertilization, as they had planned for River to be their last child and Amber, 39, had her tubes tied after he was born. But things changed when the country crooner realized he had "extra love to give as a father," and they learned IVF was a way around the fact that Amber's surgery was irreversible.
Tragedy struck again, though, when Amber miscarried with the first of the two viable embryos they produced via IVF. "I have had friends who have gone through miscarriages and it's one of those things that until you go through it, you have no idea … what that pain is, not only emotionally but physically," she says. "I had no idea of the pain you go through for hours."
"And sometimes it takes days or weeks," Amber continues. "I just have a whole new respect and compassion for women who experience this. And it's so much more common than we know of."
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Thankfully, their second embryo stuck — and they didn't end up telling their kids about the loss, which they'd experienced in Amber's first trimester, until they also had happy news to share with them this time around.
"Then they got excited all over again," says Smith, while Amber adds, "They're so excited. Lincoln kisses my belly every morning and always says goodbye whenever he goes to school. London is excited, too, but [Lincoln] just can't wait for a little brother."
Baby boy's arrival will come just over two years after River's death. And although the new addition could in no way "replace" their late child, says Smith, his birth — as well as the family's new home, which is currently in the process of being built, with a target completion date in May — will represent a new chapter in their lives.
"We really needed a fresh start," the "Backroad Song" hitmaker explains. "We didn't need to forget anything — we just needed a new change of pace where we're really reestablishing new roots on a new piece of land with some new neighbors, a new grocery store and a new way to work. And getting us out of the rut that it's easy to get into, especially after tragedy, where you start driving the same road and you start thinking the same thoughts and you kind of get sucked into the same path."
Adds Amber, "We didn't want to stay stuck in our grief where we couldn't grow as people and be the best parents that we can be for London and Lincoln. And while this is, like Granger said, never going to be a replacement, we're doing the best that we can moving forward carrying what we have to carry in this new road that we're walking."
As they turn the next page in their family's book, Smith says River is "part of many discussions every day," including their "laughter" and "tears." In fact, "He's so much embedded in our daily lives as a family member that it's just as if he's still with us."
"I've talked about him a thousand times just today, including this conversation," the singer adds. "But I really learned after the loss of my dad six years ago that there's this fear that when you lose somebody that every day that goes by, you slowly start forgetting them more and more. And then I learned through the loss of Dad that's just not the case."
"The craziest thing about this pregnancy, but so hard to understand with our human brains," Smith says, is that the new baby "will exist on Earth because another child doesn't. And I haven't completely unpacked that idea."
"And it's so profound to think that as this baby grows and gets older, that everything that he does and that purpose and meaning in his life is because another child was before him that paved the way for that," he explains. "We'll think about that till the day we die, I'm sure."
Agrees Amber, "Because of River's life, this baby is allowed to be here, and without having River, we wouldn't have this baby. So like Granger said, that's really hard to wrap your brain around. But it's almost a gift from River. It's a gift from God, but it's [also] a gift from River's life, and his legacy that this baby is able to be here."
She also thinks passing on the memories of River to the new baby will "come so natural," in their "everyday conversations" and photos around the family home. The more difficult part, perhaps, will be ensuring he doesn't live in his late brother's shadow.
"We don't want everyone overshadowing him with River and we don't want him to grow up ever feeling guilty that he's here because River passed away," Amber says. "So that's going to be a battle that we have to go with."
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Smith and Amber tell PEOPLE they went back and forth for around eight months about whether they wanted to add another child to the family they'd once felt was complete.
And the moment the singer knew he was ready to take the leap into a medically assisted pregnancy, as long as his wife was on board, was when his son Lincoln asked him during a camping trip, " 'Daddy, does God make some of the trees and man make some of the trees?' ", knowing that humans sometimes plant trees.
"And I answered without even thinking, 'No, buddy. God makes all the trees, but sometimes man needs to plant the seeds,' " Smith remembers. "It was kind of profound. It was a deep answer that I didn't even really think about."
After he broached the subject with Amber that night, she was initially hesitant, telling her husband, " 'I don't know how I feel about that, because who are we to pretend to play God and make babies in a test tube?' "
"I started crying. And I said, 'Because God makes all the babies and sometimes man needs to plant the seed,' " Smith says. "Then it just all came full circle. And then from then on, I just knew we were on a mission. We were on a mission to run this to the end of the course."
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